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Fibrus Downgrade FTTP Broadband Speeds After Capacity Woes

Friday, December 11th, 2020 (12:01 am) - Score 6,360
fibrus fttp broadband

Belfast-based UK ISP Fibrus, which is deploying a new Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network across Northern Ireland, have embarrassingly had to inform some of their customers in the South Down constituency that their speeds will need to be significantly downgraded due to a lack of network capacity.

The timing of the current problem really couldn’t be much worse, since it follows only a few weeks after the Northern Ireland Executive formally confirmed that Fibrus had been selected to deliver Project Stratum (here), which will see £350m invested to bring “full fibre” broadband to more than 76,000 extra premises across some of the hardest to reach areas (e.g. rural).

Prior to that Fibrus had already pledged £85m+ to support a commercial deployment of FTTP in Northern Ireland, which separately aimed to cover 145,000 premises by around 2024 (here). The provider has also committed to help ensure that 100% of homes in the country can access such services by the end of 2025 (here).

Unfortunately, some of the provider’s customers, mostly those in the South Down region, have recently been complaining to ISPreview.co.uk about issues of poor service quality. The most common gripes have tended to centre around slow speeds and high (slow) latency times.

A Lack of Network Capacity

Fibrus finally acknowledged these issues in late November, with a more recent letter to customers – seen by ISPreview.co.uk – pointing the finger of blame squarely at “higher than anticipated” demand for their services. As a result, the provider said they “weren’t fully prepared for the demand on our core network” and have pledged to make “further significant investment to upgrade our network capacity so this doesn’t happen again“.

The bad news is that, with Christmas fast approaching, this additional capacity “will not be in place before the New Year” and as a result they’ve had to take some rather surprising action in order to ensure they can cater for all of their customers. As such, until the new capacity is in place, they intend to “temporarily downgrade” the packages that customers take (e.g. if you have 300Mbps then you’ll be put on 100Mbps instead).

The downgrade is expected to be completed by the end of this week and as compensation Fibrus have decided to give those affected a free service (from their next bill) until the problem is resolved, which will no doubt be very welcome, albeit still somewhat bitter-sweet.

Dominic Kearns, Fibrus CEO, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“The demand for our services and increased bandwidth packages in South Down has completely blown us away. We have put our hands up and said to our customers that given this demand, we simply didn’t have enough capacity in our new network to cope with it. Although staged upgrades in capacity were planned for these areas next year, we have had to accelerate that investment programme in response to the demand.

As a result all our customers in the affected towns are getting their service free of charge until we have the additional capacity in place. We have also balanced all our customers on a single bandwidth package to ensure that everyone has a functional service.

The industry across the board is now seeing the knock on impact of increased demand on our networks from COVID with people being at home more than usual. Standard capacity modelling for all operators is now out the window. All our current and future build areas are now being delivered on our newly built backhaul network that has significant capacity available for our customers.

We have taken full ownership of this issue and continuing to put our customers first is our main focus.”

So far as we can recall this is the first time that an FTTP broadband ISP in the UK has ever had to forcibly downgrade the package speed they supply to customers. The failure to provision enough capacity for their network to cope with demand is, however, a problem that does occasionally crop-up via other providers in this market too (it tends to be more of a problem with cheaper consumer ISPs), even if they don’t always admit it publicly.

The challenge for Fibrus now will be in ensuring that this really “doesn’t happen again,” which in an aggressively competitive market can sometimes be a difficult promise to keep. This also goes to show that slow speeds can still become a big problem, even for full fibre networks where the cable itself is no longer an obstacle for performance.

We do have to credit Fibrus though for being open and honest about the situation, which is sadly all too uncommon in this market.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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11 Responses
  1. Stephen Wakeman says:

    So here’s a question then.

    If take up of their FTTP was so massively beyond their expectation and, evidently, their ability to provide the product as sold, could they not have simply said “no” to new sign ups? Or have them on a waiting list?

    They are a startup. Utility provider startups do this, to prevent them from taking on more customers than they can reasonably manage or to funnel the customer base so they can ramp up gradually.

    It just seems unnecessary to reach such a mea culpa. They can model the uptake trend and easily see, early on, that demand will outstrip service provision. So you place a hold on sales and new contracts.

    But of course, that means turning down money and potentially losing a customer while you make them wait. So maybe I answered my own question with “of course they do it like this because capitalism”. We can ignore the fact that their rural venture is heavily subsidised with taxpayer money again, because capitalism.

    1. John says:

      They are still taking on new customers and giving everyone a FREE service rather than temporarily stopping signups and still charging existing customers… and you think that’s because they are greedy capitalists?
      Right…

      Poor show really but well done Fibrus for the temp solution.

      The likes of Virgin keep on selling in oversubscribed areas, simply removing the top packages from sale, giving no compensation to anyone already on the top packages.

      No idea how anyone can criticize the response.

    2. Mark Jackson says:

      It’s a difficult one for a new FTTP build, since the ability to show rising take-up is necessary to retain favourable support from your investors. But generally, across the industry, I’ve hardly ever seen ISPs pause new sign-ups when congestion strikes, so it’s a very rarely deployed “fix”.

      The biggest difficult with congestion is often just getting the provider to recognise that it’s even happening. Luckily in this case we’re past that point.

  2. Buggerlugz says:

    Three, please take note of this, and learn something from it.

  3. Name says:

    This is the final call for their customers to start looking for a new ISP.

  4. Fan says:

    So is it the Covid demand or is it too many customers? Both look like fig leaves to cover embarrassment after getting the fundamentals wrong. Haven’t seen anything from the other isp’s except messages about how well their networks handled it. If this was simple bandwidth upgrades then it would have been fixed quickly. Have they under spec’d their equipment or cut corners in how they build it?

    The real concern is that NI government awarded fibrus the stratum deal even though they had no track record in this area. I’m sure fibrus used the area they have had to rate limit as evidence they could build this type of network but you would have to question their ability to deliver stratum now. Ramp up was always going to be hard, the lack of choice of providers was a challenge but if the technical solution can’t deliver the speeds then there are real problems ahead.

    NI government should be keeping a close eye to make sure stratum isn’t the disaster people fear it will be.

    1. A_Builder says:

      Personally I’d be less concerned given the unusual degree of honesty , free service and fix date.

      At least it **can** be upgraded.

      What is the alternative 100/100 or ADSL?

    2. Fan says:

      Looking at the thinkbroadband maps Most fibrus areas have other FTTP providers so the alternative would be a comparable product. The honesty is refreshing but it’s been clear they’ve been having issues for weeks so no real secret. Social media posts are full of complaints about slow speeds in the evening.

      The upgrades bit is what is interesting. Why would it take so long if it was simply bandwidth? Worry it is something more fundamental.

  5. N says:

    Quite incredible, in the core network too. One does have to wonder why this wasn’t just a case of ordering more wavelengths. Can’t believe they got to this stage when a simple 1x 100G core should be more than enough.

    Great honesty though, if this was my provider I’d see this kind of upfront mea culpa and free service as an encouraging sign.

    1. A_Builder says:

      It **might**, having zero special knowledge of the situation, be to do with lack of headend ports/capacity to backhaul for a rapid fix.

      It **might** be that they are utilising others to provide backhaul/handoff while they sort out their own peering?

      Don’t know but ATM the choreography of timings in construction is very very hard and I suspect in other spheres too. So it **might** be that planned upgrade works have not happened as fast as they predicted or one important step has not been done.

  6. JitteryPinger says:

    Seems like a decent practice compared to what others generally do or have done over the years.

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